I write about crime—everything from a murder committed by a member of my own family to homicides carried out in a world of my own making. I also read about crime, and have since I started carrying a library card. Now, what I consider a crime novel you might not. But the 10 selections here are, for my money, the best the genre has to offer.
1. The Godfather, by Mario Puzo
This one is the Olympic gold medal winner of the crime world. It will never be matched. Ever.
2. In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote
It broke every rule of nonfiction, creating a new template for true crime. Beautifully written, it never allows the reader to forget the crime behind the tale.
The story has been copied countless times, but you just can’t top this version. Highsmith writes with a cold detachment that makes it all the more frightening.
4. Innocent Blood, by P. D. James
Although the murder occurs before the story even begins, this crisp, clean classic is one of the most chilling reads you’ll ever encounter.
Practically a how-to on writing and pacing a crime novel, with dialogue that couldn’t get any more on the money (don’t miss Robert Mitchum in the big-screen adaptation). Higgins is one of the underrated greats.
The first in a series that disappeared way too early, this novel is fast-paced, exciting, and filled with enough twists and turns to make you take hard notice.
7. City Primeval: High Noon in Detroit, by Elmore Leonard
I could pick from as many as 35 Leonard books for this list, but this early work rocks and rolls with great dialogue, tons of action, heroes who could easily be villains, and bad guys you end up liking more than you probably should.
8. Cop Hater, by Ed McBain
The first of the 87th Precinct series, this is still one of the best. McBain set the standard for police procedurals and inspired a number of TV shows—including Hill Street Bluesand Law & Order.
9. The Continental Op, by Dashiell Hammett
This collection of stories brings the Op into the PI arena. It’s Hammett at his best. And at his best, Hammett—the writer who gave us Sam Spade, among other hard-boiled private dicks—beats everyone else in town.
10. The Blooding, by Joseph Wambaugh
Any of Wambaugh’s novels could have made the list, but this nonfiction book gets the nod because it’s true, and that makes its gruesome story even more amazing. Better yet, the tale has a stunner of an ending.